Please. A simple word that shouldn’t require a reminder. Our mothers demanded it when we were children. “What’s the magic word?” “What do we say when we want someone to pass the broccoli?” “No thanks,” perhaps. As we get older, move out on our own, and no longer rely on our mothers to keep us in line, many of us stop using the word “please” and rather imply it.
–From “Practical Communication: 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Finding the Balance Between Getting Along and Getting Things Done”
For some reason, as we grow older, many of us forget to use this common courtesy that was probably one of the first 10 words we were taught as children. I don’t know why, or when, but we just stop saying it. Instead, we start implying—with a pleasant facial expression, or a slight raise in pitch. For the most part, we get away with it, but not always. If the facial expression or tone is lacking, or the communication is written, what we intend as a request could come across as a rude demand.
A little while back I was in line at a store buying dog food for the #WPIA and the clerk behind the counter wanted everyone to move three feet to the left. Apparently, his sense of “good order and discipline” was being thrown off balance because our line wasn’t straight. Why it mattered, I don’t know, but moving a few feet wasn’t really a problem. Or at least I thought it wasn’t. However, a rebellion ensued.
“Everyone needs to move over to the other side of that pillar.”
A simple request, but one than resulted in a bit of a backlash from my patient friends in line. “Why?” “What difference does it make?” Could be heard muttered from the group. Those not ready to verbally rebel, did so nonverbally by not moving.
I think what people took offense to was the way we were “asked.” A simple please (along with a more pleasant tone and a smile) would have greatly improved his request, and I believe, the compliance of my rebel friends in line.
The missing “please” is even more common, and troublesome, in written form. When we put a request in writing without saying “please,” what is intended as a request, “Can you send me the weekly report?”, is often interpreted by the recipient as a demand, “CAN YOU SEND ME THE REPORT!”
Because when we receive written communication, we’re only getting part of the sender’s message, the words. We inherently know the message is incomplete and we fill in the tone of voice people might use when they say those words and the body language and facial expression that would go along with it. And it ain’t pretty!
If we like the sender and believe they have good intentions, we hear a kind voice and see the smiling face of a friend. If we don’t like the person or think their motives are negative, we hear a demanding voice and see the scowling face of a bullying dictator.